The New Kitchen Mystic: A Companion for Spiritual Explorers

Beyond Words/Atria Books/Simon&Schuster 2013 

From the Introduction by Mary Hayes Grieco

Hello, friend. I imagine that you, like me, wish to shed your fears and limitations, groom your best self into being, and shine like the sun — illumined by your soul and its loving purposes. So many of us around the world these days are waking up and committing ourselves to the goal of spiritual enlightenment. But human life is difficult — riddled with obstacles, losses, and unexpected trauma. And even if we have the good fortune to enjoy a gracious external life, we can still be painfully engaged with an internal struggle as we attempt to address our shortcomings or excesses of character. My personal struggles have been both external and internal: I’ve had to cope with a certain amount of loss and trauma throughout my life, and I’ve had to master my extra-sensitive temperament, a high-maintenance personality that gets mired in insecurity and derailed by intense emotions and leftover ghosts from the past. I’ve done my best to make good use of my sensitivity, and gain what wisdom I can from my pain, and I have found a measure of peace with these facts of my existence.

I believe in human greatness, and I have looked it in the eyes a few times, in the presence of a few truly free people. The journey to liberation is by nature a difficult one — a hero’s journey — and it requires the presence of dedicated traveling companions and frequent doses of inspiration and encouragement. Throughout the years my path has been lit by the daily presence of an inspiring book — a book that is a friend that reflects myself to me like a mirror, and keeps me company.  I have always treasured a book written by someone who engaged life fully, and who was able to distill their personal experience into words that are universal and that shine with the golden nobility of something we call truth. When I was in high school I was a lonely philosopher and an oddball who was warmly befriended by Henry David Thoreau and Kahlil Gibran. I traipsed through the crowded halls with a battered copy of Walden Pond or The Prophet in my purse, and I pulled over to a private space at least once a day to find solace in reading and to find myself again. When I traveled around America in my early twenties, it was Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself who lived in my backpack and spoke with me at bedtime, wherever that turned out to be. When I was in my thirties and forties, I found comfort and guidance in the Bhagavad-Gita, and reveled in several different translations. Now I’m in my fifties and as I sit in my favorite chair and write this, there is a copy of The Power of Now nearby that is starting to show signs of much use.

Over these last 20 years I have been blessed to meet many people who loved my first book, The Kitchen Mystic, and who hoped to buy more copies of it. (It seems like no one who stumbled across it ever bought fewer than four copies of it.) These friendly fans like to show me their copy of my little book: dog-eared, streaked with yellow highlighter and with their own enthusiastic notes scribbled in the margins. These strangers touch my arm with surprising intimacy, and look at me knowingly as they quote me to myself, as if we are old friends, meeting again. They lean into my face and tell me earnestly how loyal they feel to my little book, and how faithfully it’s been there for them: I keep it by my bedside … I always take it with me on vacation … It’s on the kitchen counter where I can see it … here it is, right here in my purse, like it always is! When I see these worn and tattered copies of The Kitchen Mystic, I am reminded of my  relationship with those few special books in my life. My book is their friend, a trusted companion along the bumpy road to spiritual enlightenment. I feel so honored. With a dawning thrill of understanding, I have come to see that my nearly accidental first book is what is known in common parlance as a “keeper.” I even dare to hope that it is what is called in the publishing world, a “perennial.” With so many old friends out there already, I mused, perhaps it is time for a reincarnation.

So, friend. I pray that The New Kitchen Mystic: A Companion for Spiritual Explorers will be a good friend to you along your daily way, and that together we will walk with the inspiring company of great people who have gone before us. The well-loved masters, mystics and social heroes of the past have held their illumined hearts out to the world around them like a lamp in the darkness, and so can we. Thank God we are not alone, you and I. We are together, your heart and mine, in the Great Heart that beats in the center of Creation for all of us.